In the years of the Cold War, Turkey positioned itself at the vanguard of the free, i.e. Western world, confronting the so-called “evil empire”. Many Turks, especially in the hinterland, truly believed that the words “communism” and “terrorism” meant the same, while newspapers wrote about the “oppressed” status of millions of Turks in the USSR. But everything changed at the end of the 20th century. The 1990s became a period of unprecedented growth in bilateral trade, as Turkish contractors rushed to tap into Russian expanses by erecting a variety of buildings of disputable architectural value. The collapse of the USSR gave rise to expectations of the arrival of a “Turkic century” and a “Turkic world from the Adriatic to the Great Wall of China.” According to many in Turkey, the Turkic-speaking people living in Russia were to occupy a place in this world too.
Gradually, the nationalist euphoria evaporated, and since the early 2000s, with the strengthening of the Russian statehood, Turkey has been building relations with Russia on the principles of practical gain and respect for the interests of its partner. Fortunately, moderate Muslim realists from the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in Turkey in 2002.
During this period, Ankara’s foreign policy agenda underwent substantial changes. The AKP program proclaimed a new balance of strength and new foreign policy interests, although relations with the EU, NATO and the United States were still a priority. Nevertheless, the document emphasized the need to form friendly relations with Russia in the Central Asian and Caucasian regions and paid a lot of attention to relations with countries of Central Asia and the Middle East.
The current foreign policy doctrine has become multifaceted in contrast to Ataturk’s wish in favor of the country’s strategic orientation to the West. The years-long desire to integrate into the EU has faded into the background, as the main task now was to fulfil the idea of turning the country into a self-sufficient center of attraction by creating a powerful economy, addressing domestic political problems (primarily the Kurdish issue, which is not articulated but implied) and pursuing a constructive foreign policy. In the long run, the task was to turn Turkey into a world power. Simultaneously, there came a refusal to portray the country as a “bridge” between the East and the West – this definition was adopted by Turgut Ozal, the “architect of new Turkey”, in the 1980s. According to the current leadership, the image of a bridge secured for Turkey the status of a secondary player in international relations. Now the country appears to be a “central state” located in the heart of Eurasia and boasting multiple identities: after all, it belongs to both Europe and Asia, spreading to the Balkan, Caucasus, Middle East and Mediterranean regions. This dictates the need to pursue a multi-faceted foreign policy which does not provide for privileged relations with anyone.
In essence, these were the ideas of the former Minister of Foreign Affairs (2009-2014) and Prime Minister (2014-2016) of Turkey Ahmet Davutoglu, which he put forward in 2001 in the monograph “Strategic Depth”.
Davutoglu believed that by joining NATO, Turkey consented to play the role of a peripheral country in the Western world, having shortened the list of its interests within its close circle. Even so, the West denied Turkey integration, because it saw Ankara as a centuries-old rival. In this regard, the Davutoglu concept focuses on the link between present-day politics and the historical legacy of the Ottoman Empire. His “neo-Ottomanism” implied reconstruction of a new form of empire on a qualitatively different level, which is not so much as direct integration of countries that once belonged to the Ottoman state, as rather the strengthening of its economic, cultural and political influence throughout Pax Ottomana.
Another fundamental idea proclaimed by the then university professor was the principle of “zero problems with neighbors”, which implies the highest possible level of political and economic cooperation with neighboring states. Among these, in his opinion, were countries that are not directly bordering Turkey, such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.
Incidentally, the later problems in relations with Yerevan, Athens, Nicosia, Damascus, Jerusalem, Cairo, Riyadh, and to some extent, with Baghdad, demonstrated the complexity of the “zero problems” paradigm, in contrast to the principle of neo-Ottomanism, which is excluded from Ankara’s foreign policy vocabulary but is still being translated into life.
Whatever the case, it can be assumed that present-day Turkey sees itself as a multi-regional leader but without any foreign policy preferences.
In the course of the implementation of this policy, it turned out that for pursuing “active and multi-faceted” policy the country lacked economic and political resources. This became particularly visible in the Syrian direction. Thus, cooperatioin with Russia, based on a powerful economic foundation, became for Ankara not just a choice, but a need. Moreover, it is obvious that the priorities were set before the Syrian crisis: back in 2010, Ahmet Davutoglu wrote in an article for “Russia in Global Affairs”: “We consider Russia an invaluable partner, an important world power and a key player in terms of regional cooperation. I would like to emphasize that further development of cooperation based on common interest of the two parties, mutual trust and transparency is one of the top priorities of our foreign policy … We are set on addressing the same international problems, we understand each other and try to bypass “sore points” which could provoke irritation. We would like to continue a sincere and open dialogue with Russia on further development of our region. ”Notably, political rapprochement was facilitated by the similarity of the national mentalities of the two countries or, rather, by their difference from the “western” mentality.
The “axial time” in Russian-Turkish relations was the period 2015-2016. While NATO allies chose to keep aloof following the incident with the Russian plane, Moscow chose to support Ankara, by not only restoring the old relations, but also by developing them to the level of a truly strategic partnership. Soon afterwards came an attempt of a military coup, which almost cost the Turkish leader his life. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, suspecting that Washington was doing more than just watching the military insurgency from the outside, appreciated the sincere and constructive position of the Russian leadership.
At present, bilateral cooperation hinges on active trade and economic relations. Projects such as Akkuyu NPP and Turkish Stream have all the potential to link the two countries’ economies for years ahead. Moreover, they have a political component.
Statements that are often heard in the Turkish expert community maintain that both countries pursue their own national interests, which coincide but only partially. This is true. Some experts also say that where the interests coincide, Turkey and Russia act together, where they clash, both countries “isolate” each other, trying not to spoil relations. Besides, Turkey is trying to use the United States as a counterweight to Russia and vice versa.
In big politics, there are no simple solutions, and for Ankara multi-facetedness remains a challenge. Therefore, there is no need to equate the trend towards Turkey’s distancing itself from the West with a drift only towards Moscow.
The main thing to be taken into consideration is that Russia’s role in the entire spectrum of Turkish foreign policy priorioties is acquiring ever more importance. Both countries are demonstrating the ability to compromise even on issues of particular concern, such as the situation in Idlib. Even though many Western analysts view the Russian-Turkish rapprochement as situational and time-serving, Russia is demonstrating ever more trustworthiness, if not as an absolute ally, then as a reliable partner in all areas. And the fact that cooperation with Russia is economically beneficial becomes for Turkey a reality perceived through experience. From our partner International Affairs
After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians
The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.
According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.
The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.
“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”
Scandal of Al Hol’s children
Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.
“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”
Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021.
Blockades and bombardment
The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.
“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.
In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.
Living in fear
In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.
At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.
Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.
Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.
The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”
Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants
The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.
“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”
IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking
A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?
The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.
Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.
When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.
Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible. Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.
Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.
The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.
It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.
“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.
I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.
Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.
Elections represent an opportunity for stability and unity in Libya
With just over 100 days until landmark elections in Libya, political leaders must join forces to ensure the vote is free, fair and inclusive, the UN envoy for the country told the Security Council on Friday.
Ján Kubiš, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) briefed ambassadors on developments ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due to take place on 24 December.
They were agreed under a political roadmap stemming from the historic October 2020 ceasefire between Libya’s rival authorities, and the establishment of a Government of National Unity (GNU) earlier this year.
At the crossroads
“Libya is at a crossroads where positive or negative outcomes are equally possible,” said Mr. Kubiš. “With the elections there is an opportunity for Libya to move gradually and convincingly into a more stable, representative and civilian track.”
He reported that the House of Representatives has adopted a law on the presidential election, while legislation for the parliamentary election is being finalized and could be considered and approved within the coming weeks.
Although the High National Election Commission (HNEC) has received the presidential election law, another body, the High State Council, complained that it had been adopted without consultation.
Foreign fighter threat
The HNEC chairman has said it will be ready to start implementation once the laws are received, and will do everything possible to meet the 24 December deadline.
“Thus, it is for the High National Election Commission to establish a clear electoral calendar to lead the country to the elections, with support of the international community, for the efforts of the Government of National Unity, all the respective authorities and institutions to deliver as free and fair, inclusive and credible elections as possible under the demanding and challenging conditions and constraints,” said Mr. Kubiš.
“The international community could help create more conducive conditions for this by facilitating the start of a gradual withdrawal of foreign elements from Libya without delay.”
Young voters eager
The UN envoy also called for countries and regional organizations to provide electoral observers to help ensure the integrity and credibility of the process, as well as acceptance of the results.
He also welcomed progress so far, including in updating the voter registry and the launch of a register for eligible voters outside the country.
So far, more than 2.8 million Libyans have registered to vote, 40 per cent of whom are women. Additionally, more than half a million new voters will also be casting their ballots.
“Most of the newly registered are under 30, a clear testament to the young generation’s eagerness to take part in determining the fate of their country through a democratic process. The Libyan authorities and leaders must not let them down,” said Mr. Kubiš.
He stressed that the international community also has a responsibility to support the positive developments in Libya, and to stand firm against attempts at derailment.
“Not holding the elections could gravely deteriorate the situation in the country, could lead to division and conflict,” he warned. “I urge the Libyan actors to join forces and ensure inclusive, free, fair parliamentary and presidential elections, which are to be seen as the essential step in further stabilizing and uniting Libya.”
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